The world’s oldest man, Israel (Yisrael) Kristal, died last week in Israel shortly before his 114th(!) birthday. His life, despite being extremely difficult during certain periods, contains at least three important tips about Jewish happiness (simcha).
Like many people, getting in better shape is one of my main goals. But as we all know, losing weight and exercising can be a major slog. And if quick results aren’t achieved, it’s easy to get disheartened and quit.
Knowing this, I’ve found a good technique for sticking with my goals: adding a pleasure booster during the process. For instance, it seems relevant to note on Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) that I LOVE Jerusalem. I lived there for nearly three years and I enjoyed it immensely.
Outside observers could reasonably conclude that Israel is a miserable country. International news reports tend to focus solely on the Middle Eastern conflict and acts of terror, while BDS protesters try to convince the world that Israelis are evil oppressors.
And yet Israel ranked 11th in the UN’s 2016 World Happiness Report (above even the U.S.). This corresponds with my own daily reality, as I observe many cheerful and enthusiastic Israelis during my daily routine. For Israel’s 68th birthday (Yom Ha’atzmaut) it’s worthy asking: why are Israelis so happy?
I have an American friend who keeps schlepping his family back and forth between Israel and America (specifically, California). When he’s living in California (as he is now), he’s dreaming about Israel: “I miss living in the Jewish state, where Jewish education is free and you get the holidays off from work. We’re coming back to Israel soon!”
And yet he has already left Israel twice to go live in America for long stints, in large part because he loves his higher earning potential in the motherland.
I’m trying hard to be less judgmental and argumentative, but because he keeps claiming he wants to settle down in Israel and remain here, I am dying to tell him the secret to successful Aliyah…
I’m not usually the type to obsess about my financial situation, or to think too much about the things I don’t have. Israelis seem a little less materialistic than people in other Western countries and I am blessed to have a full-time job in high-tech, an apartment in Modi’in, a car, etc.
But I must admit that my recent trip to visit my family and friends in Boston (near Boston, technically) shook me up a little bit.
When I first heard about Rachel Dolezal, the woman who masqueraded as African-American and seems to have falsely claimed she was the victim of hate crimes, I immediately thought about some of my own identity issues and the way I sometimes misled others after making Aliyah.
Rabbi Sacks spoke about three main thought processes that occur in the minds of religious zealots who commit acts of evil. He said that although religious violence is most commonly being committed by Islamic extremists today, it can manifest in all religions.
Everyone would do well to examine these thought processes, so we can defend against the extremists in our midst. This examination would produce the side benefit of reducing fear, anguish and suffering on a personal and national level.
The Israeli election is officially over and some Israelis, American Jews and even the American president seem bitterly disappointed with the result. It’s only natural that after any election there will be some hard feelings and sadness. This is especially true in Israel, where elections seem like life-or-death affairs that will entirely determine the fate of a vulnerable population surrounded by enemies.
So it wasn’t surprising to see name-calling and bitterness on social media following the election results. Although I can understand the disappointment, I think this is a good time for all of us to take some deep breaths and remember that anger is almost never productive for bringing about positive social change or justice.
I’m temporarily leaving my job on Tuesday to serve reserve duty (“miluim” in Hebrew) in the Israeli army for a few days. It’s always an honor to serve in the Israeli army, even in my limited role, and doing so usually reminds me of an important happiness lesson…
I made Aliyah at the age of 24, so I went through abbreviated basic training with older immigrants. A small group of us were tasked with learning how to drive tractors and bulldozers for rescue purposes (lifting up big pieces of a collapsed building to free civilians trapped underneath, etc.).
As part of this training under the auspices of The Home Front Command, we were required to get a special driver’s license to operate the heavy machinery. This meant passing a driving test and then a written theory test. Because I suffer from low self-esteem, I immediately started to panic.
When it comes to thinking about how to achieve happiness, sometimes we are presented with what seems like a binary choice: a purposeful life where happiness is a welcome side effect, vs. really concentrating on the pursuit of happiness (while neglecting meaning and service).